Read Excerpt: 'Beyond the Cleavage' by Raquel Welch

All of it was hateful and demoralizing. But I knew I was just passing through, and I didn't need the acceptance of those who disapproved. I just held my nose and gave myself a make-or-break, three-year dead¬line. Sometimes even today I drive by the first apartment we stayed in, just as a reminder of what a miracle it is that we survived that wicked period. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. My early experience in H'wood vaccinated me against sleaze and phonies.

When I hit town, it was all about Bond, James Bond, and I almost became a Bond girl! I was tested for Thunderball. Producer Cubby Broccoli had seen my photo in a Life magazine layout called "The End of the Great Girl Drought!" He called Jack Gilardi, my agent at GAC, and the subsequent buzz around town created so much excitement that it enabled me to bag a long-term contract at 20th Century Fox. But because of a technicality involving start dates and contract options, Fox put me in the sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage. I was disappointed. Here I was ready to snuggle up to Sean Connery but was assigned to eight months floating through the human bloodstream in a wet suit instead.

Since the '60s, sexy girls always seem to end up in sci-fi features; and they're still doing it. Look at Jessica Alba and Megan Fox. Since I was still unproven at the time, I was hoping that Fox would groom me for more challenging roles. But as fate would have it, the studio had a completely different plan for me. My first starring role was to be in a dinosaur epic called One Million Years B.C. Fox's studio head, Dick Zanuck, called to tell me that I would be playing the part of Loana in this remake of the 1940 caveman classic. Although I thanked him for my "big break," all I could think was, A dinosaur movie? You've got to be kid-ding me! I figured my performance would disappear without a trace.

Four brief months later came the release of the poster for One Million Years B.C. Several million copies of that image were circulated throughout the planet to herald the launch of the movie. And now we've come full circle to the moment you probably first became aware of me.

There I was, staring out at the world as though from the beginning of time. The cultural critic Camille Paglia later described it as "the indelible image of a woman as queen of nature. She was a lioness: fierce, passionate and dangerously physical." Anyway, the doeskin bikini struck a chord. I became every male's fantasy.

In the photograph, I look so convincing, so formidable standing there astride the rocky landscape in that partially shredded animal skin. I seem alert and slightly defiant, as though ready to defend myself against anyone who might attempt to tear the mini-toga off me. Or like a mama bear, ready to protect her cubs.

In one way the image was very apt, because I knew I was going to have to fight to stay afloat in the most treacherous of identities: the role of sex symbol. There I was, stranded and easy prey in that deso¬late realm of overnight success. But I was nobody's pushover. Would I be just a flash in the pan, as some predicted? It was me against the world. Or should I say us, if you count my two children. When that fa¬mous photo was snapped on location, my little ones were miles away, playing by the hotel pool with their nanny at the bottom of a mountain, while Mom was atop a smoking volcano . . . and it was snowing!

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